In the United States, one in every four deaths each year is due to heart disease. Across Europe, coronary heart disease and stroke claim the lives of 51 percent of all women and 42 percent of all men. A new report finds an unlikely preventive measure: coffee.

Specifically, drinking three to five cups of java each day could cut your risk of death due to cardiovascular disease by up to 21 percent, say the authors representing the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee. The institute is a non-profit organization exclusively devoted to studying the health impacts of coffee.

“It is important to explore and acknowledge factors which might have a protective effect to continue to make strides in reducing cardiovascular disease mortality,” wrote Dr. Doutor António Vaz Carneiro, Universidade de Lisboa, in the foreword. Following a review of the most recent scientific research, Carneiro and his co-authors highlight what they find to be the most relevant data for those worried about heart disease.

Behavior Tweaks

Lifestyles choices commonly impact mortality in cases of heart disease, say the authors: “28 percent of cardiovascular disease deaths are attributable to smoking, 17 percent to lack of physical activity, 14 percent to being overweight, 13 percent to poor diet quality, and seven percent to high alcohol intake.”

A combination of five healthy behaviors (healthy diet, moderate drinking, no smoking, being physically active, and weight control) can prevent 79 percent of myocardial infarction events in men, one study found. Another research paper suggests half of all heart disease cases in women could be avoided by swapping unhealthy lifestyle choices for more positive ones. The authors of the report also note one old standby — a Mediterranean diet — is linked to a four percent reduction in the risk of dying from heart disease.

However important lifestyle and general diet may be, coffee is the star of the report.

Healing Cup(s) of Joe

Three cups of coffee each day appears to be the optimal risk-lowering level — this would decrease your chance of dying from heart disease by up to 21 percent, the authors find. (Typically, researchers study black coffee consumption, so added milk and sugar would be a no-no.) While the exact reason is unknown, the authors speculate coffee's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties might be fundamental to its beneficial heart effects.

Coffee supports heart health in indirect as well as straightforward ways. Drinking three to four cups each day would lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by approximately 25 percent, the authors say, compared to drinking either no coffee or less than two cups. Since people with diabetes typically have higher cardiovascular mortality risk, this also would decrease your heart disease risk.

To avoid heart disease and contributing illnesses, the authors conclude, drink a few cups of coffee each day... minus the donut, of course.